Americans want to fight climate change with nature

An overwhelming majority of Americans want action on climate change. Yet, for decades America’s leaders have appeared to be incapable of delivering real policy progress. Sweeping, top-down policies — most recently the Build Back Better Act — have failed to garner broad support in the halls of Congress and among everyday Americans. Luckily, there is a more effective and more popular way to fight climate change: with nature.

Natural climate solutions are elegantly simple. Through the process of photosynthesis, plants draw in and store carbon dioxide, which is the greenhouse gas primarily responsible for climate change. Over the course of its lifetime, a single tree can sequester roughly one ton of carbon dioxide. This climate change reversing trick is not just limited to trees — grasslands, wetlands and coastal ecosystems can soak up millions of tons of carbon dioxide while also increasing natural resilience against rising sea levels and extreme weather events. 

In new polling from my organization, the American Conservation Coalition, 79 percent of young Americans say planting more trees and restoring natural ecosystems would be effective in fighting climate change. This was the highest level of support of any climate solution polled. Last year, the Pew Research Center found similar support for natural climate solutions, with 90 percent of Americans saying they support planting trees to fight climate change.

In contrast to politically-fraught and conversations about an energy transition or international climate treaties, fighting climate change with nature has the potential to rally a diverse group of stakeholders. Farmers, ranchers, foresters, fishermen and outdoor enthusiasts are all key players in implementing natural climate solutions. We must remember that climate change is a complex challenge that requires serious consideration of trade-offs. There is no silver bullet, but nature is a big part of the solution.

In Congress, elected officials on both sides of the aisle are just beginning to embrace this exciting new policy approach. The Trillion Trees Act is perhaps best known, but there are many other conservation-climate-crossover bills floating around in both the House and Senate.

The Blue Carbon for Our Planet Act, for example, focuses on restoring depleted coastal ecosystems. Plants such as mangroves, seaweed and marsh grasses are highly effective carbon sinks, sequestering carbon at an even quicker rate than terrestrial ecosystems. The conservation and restoration of coastal ecosystems will not only help fight climate change, it will also create jobs and increase the natural beauty, benefiting tourism in states like Florida.

America’s farmers can also play an important role in fighting climate change with nature. Precision and regenerative farming can lower agriculture’s carbon footprint and increase the sequestration capacity of working lands. The Growing Climate Solutions Act, which passed the U.S. Senate 92-to-8 last summer, allows farmers, ranchers, and foresters to profit from adopting climate-friendly practices by making it easier for them to participate in carbon markets. For too long, American farmers have been painted as an impediment to climate action. Passing natural climate solutions policies like the Growing Climate Solutions Act will reverse this dynamic, further empowering hard-working Americans in the agricultural industry to be on the cutting edge of real climate solutions.

The greatest criticism of natural climate solutions is that they are insufficient in the face of a threat as big as climate change. This view, however, is short-sighted and incomplete. Climate change is too important of a problem to wait for the “perfect” solution. Furthermore, according to the National Academy of Sciences, planting trees, restoring ecosystems and other conservation efforts could account for up to 37 percent of our 2030 emissions reductions goals. These solutions are at the cross-sections of popularity, effectiveness and implementability. While lowering the carbon footprint of the energy and transportation sectors will remain a challenge, natural climate solutions present opportunities for real emissions reductions today.

Fighting climate change with nature is not only effective, but it unites the American people unlike any other policy area. It’s high time the White House and Congress realize — and act on this fact.

Quill Robinson is the vice president of government affairs at the American Conservation Coalition (ACC).

Tags Carbon sequestration clean energy Climate change Global warming Nature Quill Robinson Trees

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